Old-Timey Blackhawks History: 1926-1931

Blackhawks History Links

1926-31 | 1931-36 | 1936-41 | 1941-46

In 86 years, we’ve had 15 US presidents, a World War, the Cold War, the Space Race, the fall of communism, and Billy Joel recounting most of this in “We Didn’t Start The Fire.”

And, in Chicago, one NHL team.

For the next few weeks, I will be presenting five years of Blackhawks history at a time.

Why?

I’ve noticed that there are quite a few Blackhawks fans out there who don’t know the history of the team. I’d like to teach those people out there about all the important, interesting things they might not know about the ‘Hawks.

Plus, I am a huge history nerd, and I need something to do to take my mind off of the CBA deadline.

So, let’s get this thing started!

Prehistory

Before they were ‘Hawks, they were… ‘Buds? (Photo: Ice Hockey Wiki)

The origins of the Blackhawks franchise reach all the way to Portland, Oregon. There, the Portland Rosebuds played in the Western Hockey League (formerly known as the Western Canada Hockey League) for the 1925-26 season after relocating from Regina (where they played as the Capitals). This would be the last season for the Western Hockey League, as financial troubles caused the league to fold. This would leave the NHL as the only top-tier league in North America.

When the Rosebuds folded along with the rest of the league, Frank Patrick (the brother of Lester Patrick) sold their players for $100,000 to a new NHL team in Chicago…

1926

Frederic McLaughlin, hiding his crazy behind his bowtie, I assume.

On September 25, 1926, Frederic McLaughlin (coffee magnate and “perhaps the biggest nut I met in my entire life” according to Toronto manager Conn Smythe) was awarded an NHL franchise as part of the league’s first wave of expansion into the United States. He won the bid over grain magnate James E. Norris and fight promoter Paddy Harmon.

James E. Norris and P.T. “Paddy” Harmon. Remember these names — they’ll come up later in the story.

During World War I, McLaughlin was a commander for the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division, which was nicknamed the “Blackhawk Division” after Chief Black Hawk, a leader of the Sauk Native American tribe. McLaughlin would name his new team after his division; however, a clerical error that would not be caught for another 60 years meant that the Chicago Black Hawks (and not “Blackhawks”) would be joining the league that year.

McLaughlin was considered a “hands-on” owner, and acted as general manager for the majority of the time that he owned the team. This would affect the team in various ways, as we shall see later on.

Irene Castle and her contribution to the new team. (Photo: laughinggravy21.com; Logo: Sportslogos.net)

The original logo was designed by McLaughlin’s wife, Irene Castle, a famous dancer in the 1920s. Though crude by today’s standards, it became the basis of the famous “Indianhead,” which has been voted as one of the greatest logos in sports.

Pete Muldoon was appointed the first head coach of the Black Hawks. He took the job because he had coached the majority of the team when they were in Portland. It also helped that his wife was a Chicago native. Dick Irvin was appointed the first team captain.

The first home of the Blackhawks.

The team would play at the Chicago Coliseum, which was located between 14th and 16th streets on Wabash Avenue, between 1926-29.

1926-1927 season

The first season was a decent start for the new team. The Black Hawks played their very first game on November 17, 1926 against the Toronto St. Pats, which they won 4-1.

The team would lead the league in goals scored, with 115. Unfortunately, they also led the league in goals against, with 116. The Black Hawks amassed a 19-22-3 record, good enough for third place in the American Division and a playoff berth.

The playoffs would soon be over for the Black Hawks, however, as they were defeated in a two-game series (which was decided by the total goals scored) by the Boston Bruins. After being shellacked 6-1 in the first game, they managed to play Boston to a 4-4 tie in the second game. Therefore, the Bruins would move forward by a score of 10-5.

Pete Muldoon

After the season was over, McLaughlin would fire Muldoon due to McLaughlin’s belief that the team was good enough to finish first in the division, according to Jim Coleman of the Toronto Globe and Mail. Muldoon disagreed and was fired. According to Coleman, Muldoon then fired off these words:

“Fire me, Major, and you’ll never finish first. I’ll put a curse on this team that will hoodoo it until the end of time.”

(To understand why this would be such a big deal, you have to look at the mindset of the NHL during that point in history. Being in first place of your division was about as important as winning the Stanley Cup. The President’s Trophy — and its own “curse” — was but a glimmer in the NHL’s eye in those days.)

Even though Coleman later admitted that he made it up to break out of his writer’s block, the story became the basis of the Curse of Muldoon — possibly the first example of a “curse” being placed on a sports franchise.

The Blackhawks would never win the Stanley Cup after being in first place in their division during the regular season until 2010. Pretty effective for a fake curse, if you ask me.

1927-28 season

After firing Muldoon, McLaughlin would hire Barney Stanley, Stanley Cup winner as a player with the Vancouver Millionaires, as the new head coach. The team that McLaughlin swore could have come in first the past season? Ended dead last in the league, managing to scrounge up only seven wins (along with 39 losses and three ties). Needless to say, Stanley was gone after coaching only 23 games and was replaced by Hugh Lehman, the Black Hawks’ (now former) backup goaltender.

Hugh Lehman, who also played on the Vancouver Millionaires

According to the book “Without Fear: The 50 Greatest Goaltenders,” Lehman was hired as coach after sneering openly at plays that McLaughlin had drawn up, calling them “the craziest bunch of junk [he’s] ever seen.” Lehman was then called up to McLaughlin’s office and made the head coach of the team, ending his playing career at the same time. Lehman coached the team for the remaining 21 games of the season, leading them to a 3-17-1 record.

It wasn’t just the coaching that led the team to such a terrible record, however. Injuries played a big part in this. The leading goal scorer from the previous year (and the NHL’s top goal scorer of the 1920s), Babe Dye, would only play in 10 games for the Black Hawks this season after breaking his leg in training camp. After being held pointless in those games, he would then be sold to the New York Americans. Meanwhile, the team’s points leader, captain Dick Irvin, missed 30 games with a fractured skull which would later lead to his retirement from the game.

Rookie goaltender Charlie Gardiner played 40 games this season, posting six wins (including three shutouts).

1928-29 season

Hugh Lehman was fired as head coach after the end of the last season and was replaced by Herb Gardiner, who was loaned to the team by the Montreal Canadiens and served as a player-coach. He would appear as a player in 13 games, but the team would post a 5-23-4 record with him as coach before he was fired. He was then recalled by the Canadiens in February 1929. Meanwhile, the Black Hawks would finish up the rest of the season with Irvin as player-coach. This would be Irvin’s last season as a player.

During the 1929 season, the team was to begin playing at the brand-new Chicago Stadium… except it wasn’t exactly finished yet. During this time, the Black Hawks continued to play at Chicago Coliseum, but could only get ice time through January 21, 1929. Their remaining “home” games would be played first at Olympia Stadium in Detroit before finishing up their season in Fort Erie, Ontario.

The Chicago Stadium Saga

Chicago Stadium

After Paddy Harmon lost out on the Chicago NHL franchise, he decided that he would try to get some control over the new team by building them a brand-new stadium. He managed to spend $2.5 million of his own money and borrowed more from friends like… James E. Norris.

Chicago Stadium would be completed on March 28, 1929, at a cost of $9.5 million (approximately $127 million in today’s dollars).

Two men who had lost out on the Chicago NHL franchise were giving the team a new stadium? What could possibly go wrong?

Answer: A lot.

During this time, Harmon and Norris were in discussions with Frank Patrick over bringing a new NHL team to Chicago (possibly the original Ottawa Senators, which was having financial difficulties). Under NHL rules, however, they could only do that with McLaughlin’s approval, which he refused to give. This set off a feud between McLaughlin and Norris that led to the Black Hawks being effectively locked out of Chicago Stadium. You know, the stadium built for them.

The negotiations between McLaughlin and the Harmon/Norris team were ugly, but they finally managed to come to an agreement during the 1929-30 season after Harmon was fired as the head of the Chicago Stadium Corporation. Funny how that worked out.

1929-30 season

While the fight over the Stadium was going on, the Black Hawks returned to Chicago Coliseum for the early part of the next season. Since Irvin had retired from play due to lingering effects from his skull fracture, defenseman Laudus Joseph “Duke” Dutkowski was named the new captain of the team.

As in previous seasons, the team returned the next season with a new head coach. This time, it was Tom Shaughnessy. After only managing to win seven games each of the past two seasons, the Blackhawks shot to a 10-8-3 start under Shaughnessy.

Nevertheless, he was fired and replaced by Bill Tobin, the team’s president, in the middle of the season. The reason for this has apparently been lost to the sands of time. Seeing as how Shaughnessy was put in charge of the upstart Chicago Shamrocks of the American Hockey Association the next year, however, I would not be surprised if some background shadiness had something to do with his departure from the team.

In December 1929, the team was finally allowed to move into Chicago Stadium, their home for the next 65 years, give or take a few months. Their first game in the Stadium was against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 29 of that year, which they lost 4-3.

Fortunately for the team, the sudden coaching and venue changes did not curb their winning ways. They ended up with a 21-18-5 record, good enough for second in the American Division and a playoff spot. This was also the first time they would end the regular season above .500.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Black Hawks would lose to the Montreal Canadiens in a two-game, total goal series — but at least they got a little closer to making the second round. They lost the first game 1-0 before playing the Canadiens to a 2-2 tie in the second game, losing the series 3 goals to 2.

1930-31 season

During the offseason, the Black Hawks would fire yet another head coach. However, instead of getting another new guy, McLaughlin went out and brought Dick Irvin back into the fold. Left winger Ty Arbour would be made captain while former captain Duke Dutkowski would be traded to the New York Americans in the middle of the season.

The Black Hawks would respond to this change of guard with 24 wins and 51 points during the regular season — a team record up until that point, and good enough for second in the American Division. Charlie Gardiner would play every game and had 12 shutouts, with a 1.73 goals against average. For his efforts, he was named to the very first First All-Star Team at the end of the season.

The team would make it to the playoffs for the second consecutive season, and third time overall. This time, however, they would make it past the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a two-game, total goal series. After playing the Leafs to a 1-1 tie in the first game, the Black Hawks came back to win the second game 2-1, which meant that they would move on to the second round with a final score of 3-2.

The second round was also a two-game, total goal series. This time, they would take on the New York Rangers. They would shut them out in both games, 2-0 and 1-0, sending the team to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in history.

The Black Hawks would play against the Montreal Canadiens in a best-of-five series for the Stanley Cup.

In the first game, they would lose 2-1. For the second game at Chicago Stadium, the Black Hawks were boosted to a double-overtime 2-1 win by a crowd of 18,000 — an NHL record for largest attendance to that point. The third game would go into triple overtime and set the record for the longest game in Stanley Cup Final history at 116:30 (still the fourth-longest game in Stanley Cup Final history). The Blackhawks would win Game 3 3-2 on a goal by Cy Wentworth. Unfortunately, the Canadiens would come back in Game 4 to win 4-2 before shutting out the Black Hawks 2-0 in Game 5 to win the Cup.

After coming so close to hockey’s ultimate prize, how would the Black Hawks react in the next five years? Find out on Thursday, here on RoD!

Blackhawks History Links

1926-31 | 1931-36 | 1936-41 | 1941-46

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